Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Four Months of COVID-19: Expert Recommendations

Monday, March 16, 2020 was the start of “the week that America shut down.” Therefore, we have been living with the impact of COVID-19 for exactly four months. I continue to collect expert recommendations on how to navigate what could be another four to 12 months (or longer) of uncertainty about health protocols, school schedules, financial impacts (e.g., income, expenses, investment volatility), travel, family gatherings, and more. Below are five insights that I have gained:

¨       Build a Bigger Buffer- Save more, if possible. Many experts are recommending larger emergency funds equaling six to nine months expenses (or more). While this certainly sounds wise, given the extent of COVID-19 related job losses, the unfortunate reality is that 3 in 10 adults are “one modest setback away from hardship” according to the Federal Reserve. Bottom line: save as much as you can when you can (e.g., tax refund, extra $600 per week unemployment benefit).

¨       Identify Budget Busters- Spend less if you are earning less. Good places to cut back include bank fees, autodraft payments for services that are not being used (e.g., gyms that are closed and satellite radio for your car when you are not commuting), multiple streaming services, and [you fill in the blanks after a careful review of household spending].

¨       Take Small Steps- Look for additional ways to make small cuts…a dollar here and $2 there. It all adds up. Even if it feels like there is no wiggle room in your family budget, there often is upon a more careful examination of expenses. Aim to have a “zero-based budget” where income and expenses are perfectly aligned (i.e., income – expenses = 0).

¨       Stop the Bleeding- Avoid incurring additional credit card or other debt if at all possible. Seek out local services in lieu of income (e.g., a food pantry). Consider contacting a non-profit credit counseling agency to help negotiate outstanding balances with creditors and arrange more favorable repayment terms (e.g., lower interest and/or smaller payments).

¨       Try to Change Negative Thought Patterns- Think about challenges that you successfully overcame in the past and identify what you learned then that you can apply now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another key question to ask yourself is “What steps can I take now to move forward?” From there, develop a series of action steps. Studies indicate that having a “growth mindset” helps people build resilience and confront tough challenges and changed circumstances.

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